Driving headlong into a favorite media bogeyman, the sport utility vehicle (SUV), CNN’s November 14 edition of “American Morning” hyped the danger of death and injury to children from vehicle backup accidents while weaving around how the interviewee favored more auto regulation.
“All of these incidents are not only predictable, they are 100 percent preventable,” insisted Kids in Cars founder Janette Fennell as she reacted to a government study that found 183 deaths last year from vehicle backover accidents.
While Fennell did emphasize extra precautions motorists should take when backing up their automobiles, neither reporter Greg Hunter nor anchor Miles O’Brien made clear to viewers that Fennell believes personal vigilance is not enough and believes the government needs to regulate the auto industry.
Yet a new report from the government confirmed initial suspicions about cameras and radar devices: they are helpful, but requiring them won’t necessarily make children safer around cars or SUVs.
“The technology for the smaller vehicles is extremely expensive and not foolproof, and to mandate it at this point might give drivers a false sense of security,” said Liz Neblett of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the April 28, 2005, edition of The Washington Post. Neblett promised that her agency would “continue to look at the problems and at the systems.”
NHTSA did, and a year and a half later in a November 13 report, Neblett’s agency released its findings, which on the whole backed up Neblett’s claims.
“Technologies used on vehicles to help prevent children and others from being backed over face limitations and need further study, the government said in a report to Congress on Monday,” Associated Press writer Ken Thomas noted in his November 13 story.
“Although the current technology can offer some assistance, our research showed it is not yet a reliable source to prevent these types of accidents,” Thomas quoted NHTSA administrator Nicole Nason, who went on to say she will “push everyone, including the auto industry, to come up with a solution that is practical and effective.”
But pushing the industry to develop voluntary standards was not enough for Fennell, who told the AP that she expects the lame duck session of Congress to pass legislation requiring rear-view visibility regulations.
“We need to get this bill passed before Congress goes home this year to get a minimum performance standard so we can take off our blinders, so to speak, and be able to see something when we're backing up,” insisted Fennell.
Writer Scott Memmer reported that while “the proposed bills do not specify that automakers add cameras, sensors or LCD displays to their vehicles to meet the rear visibility standard, although this would most likely be the end result if the bills were passed in their present form.”
What’s more, “As optional equipment, such cameras can cost $1,000 to $2,000,” Post staff writer Greg Schneider noted in his April 2005 article.